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Jewish World Review April 10, 2001 / 17 Nissan, 5761

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Consumer Reports

The perjurer as celeb -- ONLY in America can a woman commit perjury to protect a violent criminal, then find herself as a feminist cause celebre.

That's what happened to Joann L. Gilliam, 44, of Maryland. On Dec. 5, 1999, Gilliam called 911. "It's a gun involved," she said, "and a man has just assaulted me."

Apparently, Gilliam's boyfriend Calvin Donnell Woodard Jr., 36, had pistol- whipped her and fired the gun out of a car window after she told him she wanted to break off the relationship. Police arrested Woodard, a four-time felon, on assault and weapons charges, but released him on $50,000 bail.

In February, a federal judge sentenced Woodard to 10 years in prison on a gun charge. In addition, the Baltimore Sun reports, Woodard is facing manslaughter charges for the killing of an inmate after a skirmish over television while Woodard was awaiting trial.

Woodard is behind bars -- no thanks to Gilliam. After asking police to risk their lives to arrest her thug boyfriend -- 22 percent of police officers killed in the line of duty were responding to domestic violence calls -- Gilliam changed her story. She testified that she found the gun and a friend could verify her story. But before she could reach her friend, the cops did. The friend allowed authorities to tape Gilliam trying to suborn perjury. The feds charged Gilliam with perjury and obstruction of justice.

Gilliam pleaded guilty to the charge. Last month, a judge sentenced her to the minimum sentence he could mete out under federal law: 30 months. "I lied to the grand jury," Gilliam told the Washington Post. "I'll admit that. But ...

I'm doing time for something he did."

Not really. She's doing time for what she did.

Advocates for battered women have come to Gilliam's defense. Carole Alexander, executive director of Baltimore's House of Ruth, noted that Woodard "was walking the streets until June" and Gilliam was afraid.

It's true, women face a terrifying risk of being harmed when they break up with brutal boyfriends. But the advocates rarely admit to the other reason women don't testify: They still like the creep. Or as the Post put it, Gilliam didn't want Woodard's incarceration on her conscience.

Gilliam's attorney did not return my calls, but Marcy A. Murphy of the U.S. Attorney's office took on the fear claim. When Gilliam tried to suborn perjury, she didn't tell her friend she was afraid. Also, since grand jury proceedings are secret, Woodard would not know what Gilliam said to the grand jury unless she told him. Murphy added Gilliam did not avail herself of a "victim witness specialist" who could have helped her.

Alexander countered that it's not "surprising'' when battered women do not disclose their fear. It doesn't matter if the grand jury is secret, said Alexander, "In her head and in her state of mind, she was terrified that Woodard was going to get off and that he would know that she told and that he would retaliate."

Alexander believes the feds could have prosecuted Woodard without Gilliam. The U.S. Attorney's office disagrees. "You can't prosecute if you don't have evidence to present," said Murphy. How are the feds supposed to put violent men away if their victims won't testify? Without the testimony of a former girlfriend of Woodard's, Woodard might be on the street today.

Alexander and I strongly agree the 30-month sentence is too long. But the U. S. attorney's office was right to send out the message that battered women have civic responsibilities. When they ask police officers to risk their lives -- to rescue them because they have lousy taste in men -- they have to do their part. When women don't step up to the plate -- worse, if they betray the system by lying under oath -- they allow more guys like Woodard to remain free to prey on other women.

Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate